If It Takes Three Years To Get There: Preparing For The Bar

This is part of an ongoing series on preparing for the bar. Read others here and here.

The bar exam is coming. Us 3Ls will soon be propelled out of the lethargy that has come to characterize our final year at school by a terrifying variant of the Sunday-scaries. To help assuage any looming anxiety, we’ve gathered some details about the Massachusetts bar exam. To be clear, the following only applies to the Mass bar. After all, this is the only state where it’s acceptable to drink iced coffee when it’s below freezing outside; why would you want to be barred anywhere else.

The bar exam in Massachusetts is given twice a year, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July (it’s technically the last Wednesday and the immediately preceding Tuesday). The exam is held in Boston and Springfield (in Western Mass). The July 2019 exam will be on the 30th and 31st. The deadline to file a petition to sit for the bar for the February exam is December 7. The information isn’t online yet, but if the timing works out similarly for the July exam, the last day to file will be in the first week of May.

Massachusetts is one of about 30 states that have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). Each state sets the minimum score required to be admitted to its bar. In Massachusetts the required score is 270. (Alaska has set their required score the highest at 280; a handful of states, including Alabama and Missouri, have set their scores the lowest of any at 260.) The exam is scored on a 400-point scale. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) grades the multiple-choice portion of the exam and the states grade the essay portions.

Before you can sit, you have to send a bevy of forms to the Supreme Judicial Court clerk of Suffolk County. You need a petition to sit for the bar, which includes your address, phone number, email, NCBE number, signature of an attorney attesting to your “good moral character,” residential address history for the past five years, education history (including disciplinary actions), employment history since you turned 18, including references and reasons for leaving, and details about any legal proceedings you’ve been involved in. You also need to send in a law school certificate, an MPRE score report (you need at least an 85 to sit in Massachusetts), and two letters of recommendation. If you’re using a laptop for the essay portions, there’s another form you need to file (you can always hand-write the exam). It costs $815 to file if you’re not using a laptop, and $890 if you are using a laptop.

If you haven’t had enough of ExamSoft, you can use your laptop for the essay portions. As described above it costs an extra $75, paid to the state. ExamSoft also bills you a $97.35 licensing and service fee. As long as you file the form with your petition, pay the two fees, and complete a mock exam on ExamSoft, you may use your laptop.

At some point before being admitted to the bar (not necessarily before sitting for the exam), you need to take the Massachusetts Law Component (MLC). Once your petition is sent to the Board of Bar Examiners, you get an email notification with details for taking the MLC. The 50 multiple choice questions test the specifics of Massachusetts law in nine areas like access to justice, civil procedure, consumer protection, and domestic relations. It is open book, online, and you can take the MLC multiple times until you pass (after passing the bar, there is also a mandatory professionalism course).

Then comes the actual two-day bar exam. On the first day of the bar you take the Multistate Performance Test (two questions, three hours) and the Multistate Essay Examination (six questions, three hours), both written portions. On the second day you take the Multistate Bar Examination (two three-hour sessions, 100 questions each), which includes solely multiple choice questions. You get approximately an hour for lunch each day, from about 12:30 to 1:30.

The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) consists of two questions written over the course of three hours. This portion counts for 20% of the overall exam score. It tests six lawyering skills: problem solving, legal reasoning, factual analysis, communication, organization, and ethics. It does not test substantive knowledge of the law, but rather seeks to assess skills the lawyers should possess. It’s similar to an assignment from the 1L class Law Practice or the write-on assignment for law review. You’re provided a “file,” consisting of the factual materials necessary to answer the question, and a “library,” consisting of the statutes, case law, regulations, or rules with which to answer the question. The assignment can vary; you might be asked to draft a memo to a supervising attorney, a letter to a client, a settlement agreement, or a closing argument. Some of the facts and law provided may be superfluous, and some facts you think are necessary may be omitted. Your job is to parse out what matters and apply it and note what’s missing or needs further development. You can check out the MPT questions from the two 2018 UBEs here.

The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) consists of six essay questions written over the course of three hours. This portion counts for 30% of the overall exam score. The following is a list of subjects that may be tested, although the questions you get on test day may not touch on every one: business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law & procedure, evidence, family law, property, secured transactions, torts, and trusts and estates. Some questions may test more than one topic. You can check out the sample MEE questions from the July 2018 UBE here.

The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) consists of 200 multiple choice questions, answered over two, three-hour periods of 100 questions each. 175 questions are scored, 25 are unscored pretest questions. This portion counts for 50% of the overall exam score. The MBE contains 25 questions each from these seven subject areas: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law & procedure, evidence, property, and torts. The exam is geared towards “generally accepted fundamental legal principles.” Each question has four potential answers and you don’t lose points for wrong answers. You can check out sample MBE questions here.

Hopefully this nonexhaustive description of bar topics is helpful. If you have questions or feel like we missed something please reach out at bourhode@bc.edu. We’ll be continuing to post about the bar in the coming months.

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